As Operation HERRICK 13 draws to a close, so does 3 PARA’s time in Afghanistan. In this blog, Padre Robin Richardson – attached to 3 PARA – reflects on what he has seen to change over the last 6 months.
The Battlegroup is drawing towards the end of its tour now. Time has flown by and there is still much to achieve, but I have had mind this week to look back and reflect a little on what has changed over the last 6 months. Lives have changed – for all those injured, and for the families of Jack Howard, Colin Beckett, Lewis Hendry and Conrad Lewis within our battlegroup and for all the others across theatre who have lost loved ones, life will never be the same again because of the sacrifices our bravest and best have made. But the lives of those whom we are seeking to serve have changed too, and in most cases significantly for the better. On 10 March I saw what some would consider a strange monument to the astonishing work the lads have been doing. A vegetable stall. Skipping around the front of its rickety frame a wide-eyed little boy waving and laughing without a care in the world. Beside it the weathered face and greying beard of a man whose years, accelerated by others’ ideologies, have tired him, but who was resting a while in the warm spring afternoon. Business was good and that day life’s fleeting hopes appeared to be lingering.
That it was a vegetable stall is important, and I wish that sometimes journalists would pay them a bit more attention. Allow me to explain. On a hot street in unrefrigerated boxes, fruit and vegetables go off quickly. The man selling them only had on display what he knew he could sell within a day or two. That this stall was full was a sign of the level of both footfall and general business. Maybe it’s the building work that A Company helped to organize with the traders, contractors and the stabilisation team. It has enclosed the market area and with a number of solar-powered street lights the opportunity for trade hours stretching into the cool evening and for the night watch to protect the businesses after hours better has become a reality. The soft-leaved greens, the cucumbers and many of the other fruits and vegetables have been grown reasonably locally which points to planned, sustained, diverse and successful farming, which in an area historically rife with poppy growth is another positive pointer. Bananas, oranges and some of the other products need to be regularly resupplied and for high bulk, lowish-cost items, it needs to be worthwhile for the trader to get them in. Any taxation along the road or too much associated risk and it wouldn’t be worthwhile. So oranges point to safer roads and better lines of communication. Lastly, that this was not the only vegetable stall in the market shows that this agricultural community is enjoying the fruits of a growing agricultural economy. Now these are only my musings – my own reading of the situation – but I passed down the same street just a few months ago at the start of the tour and it wasn’t the same then. And now there’s a doctor too and the school is planned and soon to be built and with check points manned by the Afghan Police and ISAF at the entry and exit everyone is known, and people feel safer and change appears to be cementing itself into the lives of the population.
And yet there is still so much work to be done. Just a couple of kilometres away a joint patrol between our troops and the Afghan Army was attacked by insurgents. A British soldier, an Afghan soldier and an insurgent were injured. It was a humbling thing that evening to stand and talk with a Sergeant Major who, when the battle was won, ran forward to give first aid to the injured insurgent. Who carried him to a helicopter and who would do the same again in an instant. ‘It’s about being the best people we can be,’ Danny said, ‘even when its tough, especially when its tough.’